Monday, November 29, 2010

How Do You Prepare Your Kids For Big Events?

I often find myself wondering what (if anything) other parents of children in these large national chess do before the large national events.

Before one of his first major events, I had Richie focus on tactics. This was the advice I had seen and heard over and over, and for good reason. Mostly I had Richie work through problem sets with specific tactical motifs. I found that he was very good when he knew what to look for, but in real-life game situations he could still miss simple tactics. The result: he did well, but got fancy in some games and sacrificed unsoundly...

As his tactical strength improved I shifted focus a bit and would (before major tournaments) attempt to prepare for him for the most common openings. Part of the reason I did this was that I ultimately wanted him to study middle game concepts and positional thinking but I needed him to get into similar positions as often as possible so that we could talk about common plans. I just wasn't strong enough to have these discussions if he played a wide variety of openings where I couldn't study beforehand the common ideas. The result: he did well, got some decent advantages out of the opening but then missed some tactical wins. On the other hand, he began playing very quickly in the opening as they became rote and didn't seem to realize he was out of his "book." Relying on "feel" to choose the right moves and coming to expect appropriate moves to jump out at him made him liable to play superficially at the early stages of a game.

Over the last summer, we worked a lot on positional chess. I tried reviewing grandmaster games with him that systematically touched on certain positional themes. The result: he'd win a pawn or get an outpost and then relax assuming his opponent would fold. Unfortunately his opponents somehow managed to comeback from positional bankruptcy with surprising regularity.

Then I thought, endgames. That's the ticket. I'll admit I don't like studying endgames. I find so much of it to being akin to learning how to spell esoteric words that you'll never use in everyday writing. So we studied some endgames. The result: I have no idea. Richie's only ever reached a handful of endgames that resembles something we studied.

Sometimes it makes me wonder if doing nothing is best.

But then I quickly come to my senses.

So for this year's Nationals I had him go through a carefully refined study program of endgame, tactics, strategy, and openings! Seriously, though, my goal has been consistency of practice rather than quantity. We decided to skip some of the local events. And to get acclimated to a slower pace of play, for the two weeks prior to the Nationals we avoided having Richie play anything faster than G/45.

This year we opted to fly out on the morning of the event so he will have a pretty rough first day. Usually parents are advised to fly out the night before to get a good night's sleep. One time we tried that, though and the wait from the time he woke up at 7am to the first game at 1:30 pm felt truly endless.

So we're trying something different this time around. We have a very early flight out (hopefully we don't miss it!), and I'm hoping that he sleeps on the plane and catches up on his rest then. Even if that backfires and he's too wired to sleep perhaps he'll have an afternoon siesta, which otherwise would be unusual for him.

His section has turned out so far to be very competitive with at least a dozen players at the 1100+ level with good chances to win it all. I think in 1st grade last year there were a couple of standout players at the 1500+ level, but only 5 over 1100. The depth of strength should make for an exciting tournament.


A Go Player said...

This is likely well after the fact, but I noticed your blog when I was perusing the usual suspects of go sites. I'm a tournament go player, and I've played in a number of large tournaments. Since my experience comes from go, take this with a grain of salt.

I've competed internationally and found that the most important training I could do for that big event was mental. When you're competing in a big tournament, with a lot on the line, your nerves are your biggest adversary. Getting caught up in the speed of the game as you observed is often a symptom of this.

I always made a point to concentrate on my breathing, keep water nearby, just to give me something to slow myself with. And if the pressure/speed was getting to me, get up and take a walk.

Opening study, problems, review, are all important, but they all can get lost in the heat of the moment.

The Same Go Player said...

Oh, one more thing, that "feel" that you refer to, is something that can be cultivated (odd as it may sound), It's one of the most important things to learn in go. As Karpov once said when asked "How many moves do you read ahead?"

"One, but it's always the right one"

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